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Mazda Tribute ES (2001)

SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide

by Brendan Hagin and Mikele Schappell-Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 23,025
     Price As Tested                                    $ 25,475
     Engine Type              DOHC 24-valve 3.0 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 181 cid/2967 cc
     Horsepower                                   200 @ 6000 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               200 @ 4750 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  103.1"/71.9"/173.0"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3630 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  16.4 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                          P235/70R16 all-season
     Brakes (F/R)                           Disc (ABS/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/four-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
     Domestic Content                                 85 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.39


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            18/24/22
     0-60 MPH                                        9.0 seconds
     Maximum cargo capacity                      70.5 cubic feet
     Maximum towing capacity                         3500 pounds
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

BRENDAN - When I was a teenager, two of my brothers were Mazda enthusiasts and were hopping up and rebuilding those quirky rotary engines on a daily basis. I well remember getting rides to school with Matt in an ancient RX3 that could take a Mustang or Camaro to task and make their embarrassed drivers eat our dust. Mazda discontinued the rotary engine some years ago when it dropped its last RX-7. But in its new Tribute SUV, the company shows it still has a sense of rebel in it. Mazda's ad campaign says that the Tribute is a SUV that is raised by sports cars (the Mazda Miata two-seater), and after driving it around the old neighborhood haunts, I agree. It isn't a screaming rotory, but the 3.0-liter, dual overhead cam, 24-valve V6 powerplant in the Tribute keeps up with traffic - and then some. Although it was equipped with a four-speed electronically- controlled automatic transmission, the Tribute we drove was a kick in the pants to drive and it's a good alternative to today's gargantuan SUV's. Its 200 horses takes the Tribute past most other Asian companies' smaller "car-utes" in terms of acceleration and it's longer than some American-badged SUVs.

MIKELE - The Tribute handled great, and the press kit says it's because of a front stabilizer bar, independent front strut suspension, and rear multi-link suspension. I didn't crawl under to check and wouldn't know what to look for anyway. A trip to the beach over mountains would be a blast if a long, winding road were on the way - but I'd want to be driving. I was surprised how well it rode for an SUV. Usually they ride bumpy and aren't too comfortable. The Mazda drives pretty much like a car but it's still capable of some pretty serious four-wheeling. It has a system that allows the driver to instantly access automatic on-demand four-wheel drive if it's needed in an emergency like hitting a patch of ice or snow. Inside, the four-cup holders are easy to get to, the dash has lots of small cubbyholes, and the six-way power leather driver's seat was quite comfortable. My only dislike was the hard plastic door armrests. All-leather or wood-grain would be more to my taste. Bren and I were able to fit two mountain bikes in the back, once the front wheels were removed but it was only as a test. Bren's broken leg kept us from actually riding them. Our two dogs seemed to think highly of the cargo area in the Tribute because it has plenty of room for them as well as the large bags of pup food that we seem to be buying continuously. The glass in the back swings upward, and is separate from the lift gate. This is a convenient touch missing from some other SUV's. I liked using the Cruise Control for my commute home from San Francisco. Now if someone that would only invent one that would work in stop-and-go commuter traffic.

BRENDAN - My favorite inside accouterment was the sound system. A 190-watt AM/FM/Cassette unit is standard but our test car had a really nice sounding 6-disc in-dash CD changer in it so we could play our favorite stuff without fumbling though those awkward CD covers when we wanted to hear something else. The digital clock kept me on time although I'm still enamored by vintage dial-type clocks. The climate controls were easy to reach, although we rarely tested the A/C because even here in California, it gets cold. The heater worked great however. The Tribute's no-frills body design is eye-pleasing, and the five spoke, 16 inch alloy wheels topped off a rugged look. There was lots of window glass but the seating positions were surprisingly low.

MIKELE - I liked the fact that the space-saver spare tire is mounted under the rear of the vehicle rather than on the tailgate. Backing up can be an touchy undertaking if you can't see over a full size wheel. Driver and passenger airbags are standard, and our car had an optional side SRS units and ABS brakes. I haven't driven an SUV much and I could really get used to all this four-wheeling.

BRENDAN - Don't tell that to your dad, Mikele. He's still irritated that you tore up the field in back of his house.